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Science

Nanoclusters Break Superconductivity Record 138

Posted by kdawson
from the room-temperature-in-siberia dept.
KentuckyFC writes "A couple of years ago, two Russian physicists predicted that metal nanoclusters with exactly the right number of delocalized electrons (a few hundred or so) could become strong superconductors. Now an American group has found the first evidence that this prediction is correct in individual aluminium nanoclusters containing 45 or 47 atoms. And they found it at 200 K (abstract). That's a huge jump over the previous record of 138K for a high-temperature superconductor. There are a few caveats, however. The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set scientists scrambling to confirm. And 200K! That's practically room temperature in the Siberian winter."
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Nanoclusters Break Superconductivity Record

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  • by HawkinsD (267367) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:08AM (#23036656)
    Maybe not room temperature, even in Siberia: by my advanced calculations, 200 K = minus 100 F (or -73 C).

    But still very exciting.

    • by kcbanner (929309) *
      http://www.google.ca/search?q=200+kelvin+in+celsius [google.ca]
      200 kelvin = -73.15 degrees Celsius
    • by Colonel Sponsz (768423) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:25AM (#23036872)

      Maybe not room temperature, even in Siberia

      O RLY? ;)

      But yes, if this actually works in practice it's indeed exciting - while a room temperature superconductor is the Holy Grail of materials science, a 200 K superconductor is a great leap forward. A critical temperature of 200 K would make it possible to cool it with ordinary dry ice (CO2 sublimates at around 195 K) instead of LN2, which is much more expensive and difficult to handle.
      • by Firethorn (177587)
        Of course LN2, being a liquid, is easier to pump around than the solid dry ice. Both have the beneficial properties of being non-explosive, though you have to be careful to ensure sufficient ventilation, especially if you're dealing with large amounts of it.

        I wonder if 200k is reachable using some sort of heat pump system using a thin oil(so it remains liquid) as a medium?
      • by RealGrouchy (943109) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:57PM (#23040282)
        Now if they can make a superconductor at 640K, that should be enough for anybody!

        - RG>
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Crag (18776)
        "...while a room temperature superconductor is the Holy Grail of materials science, ..."

        Perhaps a 200K superconductor would be more like a Shroud of Turin of materials science?
    • As electric and cooling costs continue to rise, I wonder whether there will be good economic case for locating superconducting datacenters towards the poles (or atop mountains) because it takes so much less power to keep them running so fast. With ever more automated datacenter ops, they might be airdroppable into really remote locations, with fiber bundles or redundant satellite radios linking them to the Net, without needing human operations staff (and the power they consume for their 100F bodies).
  • with my desktop cold fusion apparatus, and i can power los angeles from my basement!

    seriously, i hope this pans out. this is earthshattering. if they can successfully scale the production process, combined with its functionality with cheap and nontoxic aluminum, then cheap room temperature superconduction in the general public will occur in our lifetimes, with all of the neergy saving and future device classes that this breakthrough implies
    • by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Friday April 11, 2008 @12:50PM (#23037904) Journal
      This looks like a great piece of work, particularly on the theoretical side.

      However, it's really unclear if it's possible to make a BULK superconductor out of this. The effect depends on a nanocluster having the correct number of atoms. Once you put two together you have - a nanocluster with the wrong number of atoms. Which is to say, a little piece of aluminum. Perhaps you could have a bunch of cluster that were separated enough to be weakly coupled so you could maintain the superconducting state, but allow current flow. But there's a whole lot of "ifs" between here and there.

      What I find exciting about this is the ability to theoretically predict the properties of nanoclusters (to say nothing of fabricating and measuring them.) Understanding nanoclusters is a step in the direction of engineering bulk materials from first principles with the characteristics you need. You know how much time and effort went into discovering Halfnium as a component for a dielectric in transistor fabrication? Imagine if that could have been discovered by running a supercomputer for a while until it found the compound with the desired properties. THAT is where this will ultimately go.

      • mod parent up
      • by Rei (128717)
        Not that any mods are paying attention to this thread any more, but this "Score:5, Insightful" post is based on a faulty premise. Bulk material of these clusters would conduct thanks to the Josephson effect [wikipedia.org].

        • Perhaps you could have a bunch of cluster that were separated enough to be weakly coupled so you could maintain the superconducting state, but allow current flow. But there's a whole lot of "ifs" between here and there.

          Bulk material of these clusters would conduct thanks to the Josephson effect

          Here's where I mention the possibility of a a bulk material. Tunneling of cooper pairs could be done if you can (1) somehow figure out how to put together a bulk material of clusters of ~20 Al atoms with enough spa

    • by kesuki (321456)
      "with cheap and nontoxic aluminum"

      I beg to differ, aluminum is the number one killer of trees, it even beats out fire.

      for humans, it has been linked to Alzheimer's, although it is not known if that is a cause or an effect of the disease.

      but it is the third most common element on earth (silicon and oxygen beat it out), and is fairly common in space as well.

      the down side is they're doing this is aluminum which doesn't make the existing use of superconductivity any cheaper.

      existing superconductivity is used in
  • by museumpeace (735109) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:24AM (#23036850) Journal
    put up no resistance...

    oh never mind. the idea was Russian but the result was in the US
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by aiwarrior (1030802)
      In Soviet Russia electrons displace metal Clusters to create superconducting Iron Curtains.

      Sincerely Yours
      Karma Whore
  • Dry Ice (Score:5, Informative)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:24AM (#23036866)
    Carbon dioxide ( or dry-ice ) is bellow 195K at standard pressure, so this material wouldn't even need liquid nitrogen for cooling. If this can be made to scale it would without doubt give countless of applications.
    • by ballpoint (192660)
      bellow? [answers.com]
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:25AM (#23036878) Homepage

    Isn't that like a "strong" Superman?

    What would that make a "weak" superconductor? A conductor?

    Yours sincerely,
    - Puzzled, Intartubes.

    • by TheLink (130905) on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:48AM (#23037144) Journal
      Not sure. I'm no expert but I believe that many higher temperature superconductors lose their superconductivity if exposed to strong magnetic fields. You could say these are weak superconductors in a way.

      Whereas the "conventional" liquid helium superconductors can retain their superconductivity in very strong magnetic fields.

      Being able to "tolerate" strong magnetic fields is very useful if you actually are intending to use the superconductors in many interesting applications - like MRI scanning devices, or maglev stuff and so on.
    • by ParanoidJanitor (959839) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:30PM (#23039956)
      There is a limit to how much current superconductors can carry before they become non-superconducting (depends on the material and the cross-section of the specific chunk of material.) A strong superconductor will be able to carry more electrons while remaining in the superconducting phase.
  • It looks like the size of this is pretty darn small (Figure 1 shows plots of heat capacities determined for aluminum cluster anions with 43-48 atoms for temperatures below room temperature. At that size, it's not particularly useful except when creating tiny electronics. I'm not sure you can string together these tiny atom clusters and get the same effect. Sadly that means we can't send power across the country without significant energy loss.
  • ...everyone knows the right number of nanoclusters is 42!
  • by sm62704 (957197)
    That's -73.15 celcius, or -99.67 Fahrenheit. 294.3 Kelvin would be a very comfortable temperature for superconductivity, I wonder if I'll see it in my lifetime?

    Coldest Temperature (North America): [islandnet.com] -81.4 oF/-63 oC, Snag, Yukon, Canada, February 3, 1947
    • by jandrese (485)
      With the way the science has been going, I wouldn't be surprised to see room temperature (300k) superconductors in my lifetime. Practical use may take longer, but thus far the field has been quite exciting.
      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        With the way the science has been going, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 400K room temperature in my lifetime. Bah, to be fair, I also expect my lifetime to exceed 300...
        • by sm62704 (957197)
          Well, I expect both of them in both you guys' lifetimes, but I'm a geezer.

          Thank God for that, I'd hate to live another 246 years of the hell I've already lived through.
  • Exact? (Score:5, Funny)

    by TimothyDavis (1124707) <tumuchspaam@hotmail.com> on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:41AM (#23037072)

    A couple of years ago, two Russian physicists predicted that metal nanoclusters with exactly the right number of delocalized electrons (a few hundred or so) could become strong superconductors.

    That is the number range for exact ?
  • >>There are a few caveats, however. The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set >>scientists scrambling to confirm If slashdot has taught me anything lately, it's that "partial evidence" and "yet to be peer-reviewed" = bullshit. Without getting overly trollish about it, the coolest news of the moment that isn't true and isn't news....isn't all that cool...? There's still some great content, and I'll keep
  • Grain of salt (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873)

    The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set scientists scrambling to confirm.
    Why the hell did they publish before peer review? That ain't how science is supposed to work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set scientists scrambling to confirm.


      Why the hell did they publish before peer review? That ain't how science is supposed to work.
      It's called arxiv and it's a beautiful thing.
    • Re:Grain of salt (Score:4, Informative)

      by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Friday April 11, 2008 @11:59AM (#23037312) Homepage Journal

      The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set scientists scrambling to confirm.
      Why the hell did they publish before peer review? That ain't how science is supposed to work.
      The article "Preprint" on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] appears to disagree with your assessment.
    • FTFA:

      Jarrold and his team are simply time-stamping their efforts by publishing on the arxiv and you can bet your bottom dollar that they're looking for other evidence right now.
    • Re:Grain of salt (Score:5, Informative)

      by PhysicsPhil (880677) on Friday April 11, 2008 @12:14PM (#23037496)

      Why the hell did they publish before peer review? That ain't how science is supposed to work.

      It is common practice in many scientific disciplines to publish a preprint of work before it is submitted for publication. This has the advantage of rapidly disseminating advances to the scientific community and to the world at large, since it's a public server. In the case of work in competitive fields, posting a preprint helps establish priority in who did what first.

      Because it's not peer reviewed and the preprint server is open to all, preprints must be taken with a grain of salt. Their value depends largely on the author's reputation within the scientific community. If the person who published this work is known to have produced good work in the past and/or works with those who have produced reliable work, the report within the preprint is generally taken at face value.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Trintech (1137007)

      The result is only partial evidence of superconductivity and the work has yet to be peer-reviewed. But its mere publication will set scientists scrambling to confirm.

      Why the hell did they publish before peer review? That ain't how science is supposed to work.

      Please read this [wikipedia.org] or at least the following excerpt:

      In academic publishing, a paper is an academic work that is usually published in an academic journal. It contains original research results or reviews existing results. Such a paper, also called an article, will only be considered valid if it undergoes a process of peer review by one or more referees (who are academics in the same field) in order to check that the content of the paper is suitable for publication in the journal. A paper may undergo a series of reviews, edits and re-submissions before finally being accepted or rejected for publication. This process typically takes several months. Next there is often a delay of many months (or in some subjects, over a year) before publication, particularly for the most popular journals where the number of acceptable articles outnumbers the space for printing. Due to this, many academics offer a 'pre-print' copy of their paper for free download from their personal or institutional website.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Because:
      1) your work will get quick attention from a lot of peers if you do this way. They may refute your results before they get to @press@.
      2) you have less chances that someone else publish the same result earlier than you, just because long referring tracks (aka "meticulous referees")
      3) science works the way the peer community thinks it should -that is science-. And right now the community accepts this behavior.
      4) nobody is lying. Everybody knows that these results must be verified by others before bein
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SirGarlon (845873)

        3) science works the way the peer community thinks it should -that is science-. And right now the community accepts this behavior.

        I subscribe to Richard Feynman's idea of scientific integrity [lhup.edu], which I suppose is why I don't fit into the "peer community."

        Quoth Feynman:

        It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think

  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Friday April 11, 2008 @12:10PM (#23037450)
    It's a big jump from superconductivity in 45 or 47 atoms and usable superconductivity.

    For instance, a usable superconductor has to be able to tolerate a strong magnetic field, i.e. substantial current. Plenty of alloys are superconducting but cannot carry much current.

    And very basic: temperature is a very hazy concept when applied to a small cluster of atoms. What's the acceptable range of energies? Very significant.

    • OTOH if these clusters actually superconduct, it ought to be feasible to make nanoscale SQUID sensors out of them ; and for this application, a weak critical field or current wouldn't matter so much.
  • .."is" 200k in Soviet Russia... in the summertime! aaa ha ha ha!

    (note: this is the variant of the ISR joke where you insert something and then "is this something in soviet russia... in the summertime! AAA HA HA HA)
  • ...that room temp was defined by the temperature people prefer indoors.
    Imagine a beowulf cluster of these clusters...maybe that's a strong superconductor?
  • Surely, a composite made from superconducting nanoparticles would not be superconducting (though it may be a good conductor). So what use is a superconductor if it has to be so small?

    Also, they measured a dramatic change in heat capacity @ 200K, which may be an indication of a superconducting phase transition. It also may be some other phase transition. They're still looking for direct evidence it's a superconducter.
  • According to this page http://superconductors.org/185k_pat.htm [superconductors.org] the previous record was actually 185K and it points out the the coldest recorded temperature on the planet is 183.95K. What is actually more exciting (to me at least) is the new non-cuprate superconductors. They are fluorine doped RFeOAs (R = rare earth) with Tc ~ 40-50K. This will hopefully give insight into the mechanisms of non-BCS superconductivity.

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